How Babycham changed British drinking habits

BBC News – How Babycham changed British drinking habits.

Oh dear, I’m older than Babycham!

Drinking Alone With The Moon

From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone. There was no-one with me —
Till, raising my cup, I asked the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends
To cheer me through the end of spring…
I sang. The moon encouraged me.
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were boon companions.
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.
…Shall goodwill ever be secure?
I watch the long road of the River of Stars

Li Bai (701-762)

Magic with glasses

One of the characteristic things about cruises is the “sea days”. These are the days when the ship does not put into a port. Sometimes you are sailing near the coast and the scenery can attract attention, if not, looking at the sea quickly loses its attraction. So the ship’s entertainment staff provide a range of divertissements to keep the customers satisfied. Quizzes are popular: Charades, Pictionary, Tribond,Name That Tune and, probably favourite, the Trivia Quiz. For some cruisers, the quizzes are a big part of the appeal. This is certainly true for a certain Mr Wolf who is rumoured to spend 200+ days cruising — he was a passenger on our recent Baltic cruise: if Mr Wolf was in the game, there was only one winner.

One of my favourite activities was the wine tasting; there were several different events during the cruise, but the final one was the the most fascinating: The Reidel Wine Workshop. The Riedel family has been in the glass business for 300 years. Claus — 9th generation — realised that the shape of the glass influenced the drinker’s perception of the the drink. Since then the company has been making glasses to suit the wine, or brandy, or port, or grappa or… The Sommeliers range has 38 different glasses.

The Wine Workshop is designed to demonstrate the effect of the glass on the wine. When we arrived in the ship’s dining room, where the workshop was being held, places were prepared with five glasses: four each contained a couple of fingers of wine, the other was empty. The glasses with wine were (I discovered later) from the Riedel Vinum collection; they were the tasting set, which contains one each of the Bordeaux, Montrachet, Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc glasses. The fifth glass — the “joker” — was one of the water glasses we used at dinner. We weren’t told specifically what the wines were except that they were all Californian — a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot.

The glasses are gorgeous: 24% lead crystal with different bowl shapes and sizes and varying diameters across the mouth — the rim of which is laser-cut. It’s the interaction of these things that influence our experience of the wine: a larger bowl allows the right wine to “unpack” and develop; a taller glass, tapering slightly inward, contains the more delicate bouquet of certain wines; the size of the mouth (of the glass) directs the wine to different parts of the mouth (of the drinker) — the flow undisturbed by the laser-cut rim. The ping when you tap the glass is beautiful and lasts and lasts and lasts…

There was no food of any kind available during the workshop. We started with the Sauvignon Blanc and the usual wine-tasting performance: sniff the bouquet, swirl the glass, sniff again, then taste. I didn’t take any notes, so I don’t recall the details. It was a perfectly decent SB, more than acceptable. The sommelier leading the session then asked us to pour the remaining wine into the joker glass, and we repeated the tasting. Blecch! Not nice at all! By the time we had finished, we’d tasted all four wines from all five glasses. I was absolutely amazed at the variation. All the wines were fine when drunk from the appropriate glass and were all quite different when drunk from the “wrong” glass — the joker was not necessarily the worst. In one or two of the wine/glass combinations, the immediate impression of the wine was that it was awful.

I am convinced! The glass does make a difference. We were all “given” a set of the glasses after the workshop, which wasn’t free, but the cost represented a significant discount on the retail price; so everyone was happy. I wish now that I’d bought an extra set to be able to run a mini-workshop at home with a wine-loving friend or two. Since coming home, I have tried tasting the same wine in the four glasses and confirmed the effect: the glass does matter; it wasn’t just four carefully chosen wines at the workshop.

There are downsides, of course. The first is price: some of the hand-madeSommeliers range are listed at 90 quid for a single glass. The machine-madeVinum are more reasonable, but still run £15-25 each. Cleaning is another issue. The Vinum are supposed to be dishwasher-safe, but I certainly wouldn’t trust my dishwasher not to damage or stain them. That means (according to the Riedel site) hand-washing: warm water, no detergent, then drying with a linen cloth. For extra shine, steam over boiling water and polish with two linen tea towels — and don’t do it until you’re completely sober. 😊

Still I do plan to add to my small collection: everyone needs the Daiginjo glass.